Martha Redbone at APAP
The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) held its annual awards ceremony yesterday during the APAP|NYC 2019 conference at the New York Hilton Midtown.
The event honored individuals and organizations in the performing arts that have demonstrated a significant impact on the industry and communities they serve, and in keeping with this year’s “The Power of WE” theme, was begun with a complementary performance by Native American singer-songwriter Martha Redbone.
Redbone first evoked the influence of George Clinton’s P-Funk cosmology, then expounded upon “The Power of WE” from her own personal ethos. Spelling it out, she said that the “W” represented “women,” and the “E,” “everyone.”
After chanting a “women’s honoring song” embellished only by a shaker, she noted that “thoughts of ‘power’” had led her to ponder “the King of the Power of WE”—Pete Seeger.
“He told me a story once about The Wizard of Oz and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’” Redbone recalled, specifying the song’s lyricist Yip Harburg, who had penned all the words to the Harold Arlen compositions.
“He was also known for his social activism and liberal sensibilities,” she added, noting that Harburg further championed union politics and gender equality. Seeger, meanwhile, told her that the reason why it took Dorothy so long to get back to Kansas was that she was searching for “special powers,” i.e., the ruby slippers, and the Wizard of Oz himself.
“She didn’t realize that the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man standing beside her were looking for their own special powers to strengthen themselves,” said Redbone, continuing to relate Seeger’s contention. “The [‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’] lyric should have said, ‘If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can’t we? [rather than I]’ It wasn’t the shoes or the individuals, but collectively the power of WE that is what they were looking for!”
Redbone then led the APAP attendees in singing the Seeger-modified collective last verse. Noting that she hails from Harlan County, Kentucky—“the home of collective singing”—she then led everyone in another Indian chant prior to the awards ceremony.
APAP’s Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts was presented to Kaisha Johnson, co-founder and founding director of Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA). The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming went to The Joyce Theater and executive director Linda Shelton and former programming director Martin Weschler. Arts Midwest president/CEO David J. Fraher won APAP’s Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presenting.
This year’s NAPAMA (North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents) award recipients were NAPAMA Presenter of the Year Todd Wetzel (Purdue University’s assistant vice provost for student life and the executive director of Purdue Convocations) and NAPAMA Liz Silverstein Award for Agent-Manager of the Year Jerry Ross (president of Harmony Artists).
Pioneering African-American dancer/choreographer/actress Carmen de Lavallade received The Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Arts. Presenter Anna Glass, the executive director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, likened de Lavallade to other inspirational African-American women like Shirley Chisholm and Nina Simone, and hailed her for having “blown wide open the doors for generations of artists” with her “extraordinary generosity” as a mentor, and her exemplary “commitment to principles and craft.”
Still performing at 87, de Lavallade remains the “irreplaceable dance and theater legend” and is “mother of us all,” added Glass.
Looking back on her groundbreaking career, de Lavallade said, “Young people today are so lucky.”
“When I was growing up, there was nothing,” she said. “We were on our own, not only as dancers but as people of color. We had to produce our own art.”
“But in a way I’m glad, because it makes you very strong,” added de Lavallade. Turning to the performing arts professionals in the room, she concluded: “I applaud you for the work you’re doing, because I can’t say how much guts it takes to put on a show.”